Youth Exchange: Outbound Students
Eli Farrell, a student at Mill Valley, California, is currently studying in Spain, with the Rotary Clubs of Tiburon-Belvedere and Mill Vally as his sponsors. Here's Eli's most recent account of his experiences in Spain.
I'm continuing to soak up the Spanish culture and the Spanish language and to enjoy myself thoroughly in the process.
My most recent experience, the Spanish New Year, was definitely an experience I'll remember. We ate a massive, delicious dinner. Shrimp, octopus, fish soup, mussels, fresh bread, sea snails, and the list goes on. After trying everything and eating a good big meal like everyone else, I was stuffed. There was no way there could be more food. But as I always fail to remember, Spaniards eat their meals in courses. So on came more food. My second plate, or "segundo plato" as they call it, consisted of half a sheep’s head. It was quite the experience. The first time I've eaten brain or tongue straight out of the skull itself.
Yesterday, I spent the evening with my host mother and sister at an Aretha Franklin tribute. The gospel choir was from Mississippi and was just incredible! Of course, the energy from the Spanish crowd, who visibly thoroughly enjoyed it, really helped the energetic and powerful energy in the auditorium.
Last weekend is definitely worth a few words as well. On Sunday night, multiple different Tango groups from around La-Rioja, my province, joined my Tango group here in Logroño for a group dinner and, subsequently, to dance with new partners late into the night. I ended up leaving at 1:45 a.m., when my arms were shaky and my brain was ready for a rest after leading grown women back and forth across the dimly-lit dance floor. It takes concentration.
I now have switched host families and live in a small pueblo just outside my prior city. The pueblo is called Oyón and is in the Basque Country. I am thoroughly enjoying my new family and home. Because I am in a smaller pueblo, I'm able to see more of the Spanish countryside daily—rolling rocky hills covered with vineyard after vineyard. It's quite beautiful! In this family, I have a mother, a father and younger sister. My host mother is very kind and fun.
Throughout the last week, my first week with this family, my host mother and I spent hours in conversation about anything and everything.
I think that it's important to mention, as I've done before, that I feel very lucky to be on this exchange, to be experiencing the Spanish culture, to be experiencing the world from a different perspective. I want to let you all know, as the individuals responsible for my being here, that I am continually trying to take advantage of every opportunity I can to experience new things, to spend as much time as I can with my host family and to get as much as I possibly can from this incredible exchange.
Apart from everything I have learned about and experienced in the Spanish culture around me, I think all of you would appreciate knowing I've been respectfully, and with their permission, sharing a little of my culture as well. As I'm sure you know, Hanukkah ended with its eighth night last Sunday. Each night, I lit the menorah and sang in Hebrew for my delighted host family. The first night I shared this tradition, I looked over at my host father who teared up while I was chanting.
On New Year’s Eve, as it was the last night of Hanukkah, I lit the candles and sang for my host mother’s family. The fascinated group, who later had an endless number of questions, told me it was the first time they had ever experienced Hanukkah or really anything Jewish. I felt proud and honored to have been able to share a little of my culture and customs with them.
My Spanish has improved quite a bit since my arrival last August. I'm at a point now where I can understand and respond to almost anything. I'm now able to follow directions in class and to hold long conversations with new friends for example.
I hope you enjoy reading my updates as I certainly enjoy writing them. Thank you again for this grand adventure and learning experience. Happy New Year!
—Sincerely, Eli Ferrell